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Patents, Pills, and the Press

The Rise and Fall of the Global HIV/AIDS Medicines Crisis in the News


Thomas Owen

HIV/AIDS is a global health crisis of unprecedented proportions. Afflicting millions worldwide, its social, political, economic, and ethical dimensions have rendered explicit the vast inequalities of our «negatively globalized planet». Since the late 1990s, a major feature of the crisis has been the dispute over intellectual property protection and medicines access.
In this book, Thomas Owen examines the mediatization of this dispute. Weaving together contemporary media theory and interdisciplinary research with computer-assisted news analysis and interviews with journalists and civil society campaigners, the book illuminates the intersecting constitutive relationships between global crises, global governance, and global media. In a context of changing media technologies, logics, and practices, this book observes where the mediatized conflict surrounding global medicines access has at times consolidated elite political economic power, and at other times provided civil society campaigners their greatest opportunities for global social change.
With an interdisciplinary approach, this book is suitable for courses on global media communication and global journalism, as well as advanced undergraduate and postgraduate courses in public health communication, political communication, social movement studies, and international relations.
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Chapter 1. Introduction


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HIV/AIDS is major crisis that has reshaped the global public health landscape (Brandt, 2013). According to Jean Comaroff (2007, p. 197), it is the “signal pandemic of the global here and now,” one that has “exacerbated existing economic and moral divides on an ever more planetary scale.” Within the vast reach of social processes HIV/AIDS touches upon, the specific issue of patent protection and medicines access has emerged as the “most critical international AIDS story of our time” (Russell, 2003, p. 38), and a “totemic problem in global health” (Williams, 2012, p. S127). In particular, the inequality in global medicines access—where those most in need of treatment have the least resources to acquire it—has illuminated the contradiction between the “extraordinary scientific progress” in the development of HIV/AIDS medicines and the “abysmal lack of social solidarity” in the global distribution of accessible treatment (Klug, 2008, p. 208).

This book explores how the global crisis of HIV/AIDS medicines access and patent protection was defined, contested, and reformulated in mainstream international news media from the mid-1990s to the present day—with particular focus on the period of heightened media attention from 1999–2001. Through a combination of corpus-assisted discourse analysis of news content, ← 1 | 2 → personal perspectives from journalists and civil society communicators, and examination of the wider political and economic processes shaping medicines access, the book illustrates the broad phases and key moments in the mediatisation...

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